Late summer is right around the corner, and with it comes seasonal suffering for an estimated 22 million American hay fever sufferers. According to the Illinois Pharmacists Association (IPhA), new prescription and over-the-counter medications can vastly improve the quality of life for many who suffer this seasonal malady.
Hay fever is a chronic condition characterized by sneezing, nasal congestion, and runny and itching nose, palate, ears and eyes, said IPhA President Chuck Sauer, R.Ph.D. We encourage our patients who are confused about which over-the-counter medication is best for them to consult their family pharmacists. I think many will discover that these new medications may make a tremendous difference in their lives. In all cases, people should check with their family physician about which course of action is best.
Hay fever is the popular term for allergic rhinitis. One in six Americans suffers from an allergic condition. Allergies are often inherited traits, with the susceptibility towards the production of certain allergy anti-bodies being handed down through generations.
Hay fever is basically an allergy reaction to pollens from trees, weeds and grasses. Unlike garden flower pollen, which is carried by insects, the dry, lightweight pollens that cause allergic rhinitis are difficult to avoid because they are generally spread by the wind.
While most people suffer mild discomfort with hay fever, it is estimated that more than 40 percent of the 5.8 million children who have respiratory allergies miss some school in the early fall, stay in bed, or feel upset by the condition.
Understanding the different treatments available is the key to successfully controlling hay fever symptoms. One product on its own may not always be enough to fully control the symptoms, as the severity of hay fever will vary through the year, and can be worse some years than others. Consulting your family pharmacist can help sort through the various options.
There are four main types of treatment available from your pharmacy for hay fever.
1. Antihistamines neutralize the chemical histamine, which is released when the body reacts to pollen, or has an allergic reaction. So, even though the body is reacting in an allergic way, antihistamines can cure itchy eyes, runny nose and other uncomfortable signs of hay fever. Tablet and liquid antihistamines can be used for occasional symptoms, as they start working within about half an hour. So, if you only have symptoms when the pollen count is high, you could watch the pollen forecast, and only take them when a high count is imminent. Medications are best used on a regular basis as a preventive, starting at the first sign of any symptoms. They can be used together with any of the other three groups of hay fever products, where one product is not enough to relieve the symptoms, or for those special occasions such as exams, interviews or weddings, where you need to be as symptom-free as possible.
Older antihistamines are still popular, but they can cause drowsiness with some people, which may be a problem with driving, concentrating, and drinking alcohol. However, they are often less expensive than the newer antihistamines. Newer antihistamines do not normally cause drowsiness, though some people can be affected to some degree. Many of them also work 24 hours and may therefore be taken as a single daily dose.
Antihistamines are also available as eye drops or nasal sprays. These are faster acting than the tablets or syrups, and are best used for occasional relief of hay fever symptoms. Do not use continuously for longer than four weeks.
2. Anti-allergy products take a few days to start working, so begin using them as early as possible at the first indications that your symptoms are starting, or when pollen reports show your symptoms should be due. They can be combined with the antihistamine tablets or liquids when one product is not enough to relieve the symptoms. Prescription-only steroid nasal sprays are particularly effective in combating nasal congestion or when the lining of the nose is swollen, giving you a blocked nose.
3. Decongestants are the same products you use for a cold. They quickly help to relieve a runny or blocked nose, and can help as a quick-acting and short-term fix. They can be used with the other three types of medicines. The tablets and liquids can be used for a week or two, but the nasal sprays should not be used for longer than a week, or you may lose their effectiveness.
4. Decongestants plus antihistamines combine the benefits of both products and are useful when the two products need to be used together.
Do not continually use any of these medications for longer than three months without first consulting with your doctor. Your doctor can then determine if your treatment is appropriate for you. Some products state this on their package information, but it is a sensible precaution for all of them.
If you have any questions, are taking prescription medication, or are being treated for a medical condition, you should check with your pharmacist or doctor before using any over-the-counter medication.